Web Chats and Virtual Book Club

VSA's Web Chats and Virtual Book Club are an easy way to expand you visitor studies skills and explore new topics. These online meetings have a specific topic but no set agenda, so participants are free to discuss the things that are relevant to them. The focus is on group sharing and learning.

If you have questions about the Web Chats/Book Club or would like to suggest a topic for our next discussion, please let us know at [email protected].

Upcoming Topics

Past Topics and Event Recordings 

Reflections on “Racism, Unrest, and the Role of the Museum Field”

In the midst of global anti-racism protests and civil unrest, many museums and informal learning institutions have publicly committed to supporting racial justice and rejected the idea of returning to “business as usual” as they begin to reopen. Inspired by the recent AAM panel, “Racism, Unrest, and the Role of Museums” (Lonnie Bunch, Johnetta Cole, and Lori Fogerty), this web chat will focus on questions around the role of visitor studies and evaluation in supporting transformational change in the museum field, such as:

  • What is the nature of conversations in your institution around racism and social justice?
  • To what extent are museums addressing racial inequity within the organization and supporting racial justice movements in the broader community, and how can visitor studies and audience research inform these efforts?
  • How can evaluators help to hold our informal learning institutions accountable for anti-racist statements and commitments?
  • Finally, as Dr. Lonnie Bunch asks of museums, how should the visitor studies field respond to these social crises and what should be our role in the struggle against systemic racism?

The Professional Development Working Group and Bridging Communities FIG are hosting a web chat to support dialogue around these key questions and to share examples with one another from our own experiences. Our goals are to:

  • Support conversation and dialogue around the role of visitor studies in addressing systemic racism
  • Share challenges and resources for supporting anti-racism and social justice work in museums
  • Envision the role that visitor studies professionals can play in pushing our institutions to action and finding tools for change


Conducting Focus Groups In-person and Online 

Focus groups are a key visitor studies methodology, although they can be costly. In this web chat, presenters will provide tips for budget-friendly focus group approaches that can be employed both in-person and online. The goals for the web chat are to:

  • Share examples of how internal evaluators have executed focus groups in a budget-friendly manner
  • Provide tips for effectively conducting focus groups in-person and online
  • Discuss challenges, opportunities, and ways participants have been adapting focus group methodologies with respect to the current environment of reduced budgets and social distancing

Web chat speakers include:

Caitlin Tracey-Miller is the Assistant Director of Visitor Research and Evaluation at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Caitlin is passionate about incorporating visitor voices into museum work, and she will describe how she has used focus groups to engage more deeply with stakeholders or potential stakeholders in an affordable way.

Sarah Brenkert is the Principal Evaluator at the Seattle Aquarium. During the temporary closure of the Aquarium building this spring, Sarah and her team had to quickly transition several in-person focus groups to online platforms. Sarah will share some tools developed for these online groups, including: participant communication templates, confidentiality and recording statements, and guides for colleagues participating as observers.

emote Formative Evaluation

Request a recording by emailing [email protected] 

Pre-COVID-19, formative evaluation often involved in-person data collection with visitors recruited on the museum’s floor. Evaluators would guide visitors through testing out manipulative prototypes and/or responding to design materials for an exhibition or program. Given the pandemic, formative evaluation has had to be rethought.  In this web chat we will:

  • Share examples of how evaluators have executed remote formative evaluation
  • Provide market research tips for remote research that apply to formative evaluation efforts
  • Discuss challenges, opportunities, and potential other ways of reimagining remote formative evaluation

Web chat speakers include:

  • Cathy Sigmond, Senior Associate, RK&A: Cathy will speak about her experience conducting formative evaluation with individuals recruited from craigslist.  She used an exhibition designer’s packet to facilitate interviews with participants over GoToMeeting.
  • Imme Hüttmann, Junior Research and Evaluation Associate, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry: Imme will share her experience conducting formative evaluation interviews remotely.  She piloted the approach with staff from OMSI before recruiting members for data collection.
  • Anne Lee Groves, Founder, Lee Groves Consulting: Drawing on her market research experience, Anne will introduce ideas from that realm that may have relevance to remote formative evaluation for museums.

This VSA web chat is free and open to VSA members and non-members. We are asking for a $15 suggested donation, if you are able, for VSA to continue to offer its virtual online learning and networking opportunities.

"The Great Sustainability Challenge: How Visitor Studies Can Save Cultural Institutions in the 21st Century" - January 9, 2020

A book club-style discussion hosted by VSA's Professional Development Work Group. We will discuss the 2007 article, "The Great Sustainability Challenge: How Visitor Studies Can Save Cultural Institutions in the 21st Century.” The conversation was directed by the interests and input of participants, but some topics explored include:

  • How, if at all, does your research and evaluation work touch on the three dimensions of sustainability for cultural institutions: intellectual, financial, and social (described on p. 4-6)
  • At the writing of the article over a decade ago, Friedman noted that visitor studies is currently mostly aligned with measuring social sustainability (p. 11).  Is this still the case?  Who is doing research evaluation work in the areas of intellectual and financial sustainability?  Should it be a focus of the visitor studies community?
  • Are there other areas of sustainability that visitor studies is or should be focused on?


VSA Web Chat: Lightning Tool Share - November 8, 2019

A Lightning Tool Share where we discussed the evaluation tools we use and love most. You’ll hear about what works for other evaluators and have the opportunity to share something that works for you. All you need is an open mind and a one minute pitch for your favorite evaluation tool!

Our hosts will kick us off with some of their own tips and resources, and then we’ll turn it over to you. Each participant is strongly encouraged to bring one thing to share, whether it’s an instrument, software, an app, a data viz technique, a trick in Excel, or any other thing that makes your work easier. Participants will be asked to briefly describe their tool and take a few questions before it’s on to the next one. By the end of the hour, everyone should have a wealth of new ideas and an expanded toolkit. A complete list of resources shared will be sent out to participants following the chat.

'Visitor Studies 101' Web Chat: Navigating the Mentor/Mentee Relationship - September 25, 2019

Being a mentor or mentee can be one of the most rewarding experiences at any stage of your career...but how does one go about finding and building these relationships? Please join the Visitor Studies Association on Wednesday, September 25 from 12:00 EST for a web chat discussion about mentorship in the evaluation field. We will be joined by Claire Quimby from Rockman et al, Susan Foutz from The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and Jill Stein from JKS Consulting, who will share their own experiences with mentor/mentee relationships. Jill Stein will additionally speak about the key takeaways and survey results from VSA’s 2018 Mentorship pilot program.

Science Self-Efficacy and Lifelong Learning: Emerging Adults in Science Museums - August 27, 2019
A discussion centered on the Screven Memorial - VSA Outstanding Paper Award winner of 2019, "Science Self-Efficacy and Lifelong Learning: Emerging Adults in Science Museums" (Gutwill, 2018). We discussed the special impact museum experiences can have on emerging adults - a demographic group often overlooked in science museums. 

"Measuring how visitors perceive animal well-being in human care" - May 6, 2019
This Web Chat was organized in collaboration with the Zoos and Aquariums FIG. The session considered: How do visitors perceive the well-being of animals in our care? Sometimes the science behind high quality welfare may be at odds with visitor perceptions of welfare, making it important to measure and discuss visitor reactions. 

Visitor Studies 101: Presenting Your Project at VSA's Conference Poster Session - March 21, 2019
Presenting posters is a great way to get involved in conferences without the pressure of a full presentation! This Web Chat discussed the submission process for VSA's 2019 call for posters and provided some tips on creating compelling posters.

Supporting Culturally Responsive Evaluation Practices - February 14, 2019
This Web Chat was organized in collaboration with the Bridging Communities FIG, and focused on ways that VSA, and the visitor studies field more broadly, can build and strengthen culturally responsive, community engaged research and evaluation practices. FIG Co-Chairs Evelyn Christian Ronning (Science Museum Minnesota) and Jill Stein (independent evaluator) will be joined by Dr. Shelly Valdez (Native Pathways) discussed their experience with CRE.

Visitor Studies 101: How Did You Get Your Job? - January 24, 2019
This Web Chat discusses career paths in audience research and evaluation. Attendees heard from experience VSA members on their experiences in the field working at a museum and consulting firm, and discussed various steps in getting a position in the field.

The Digital Impact: How Technology Shapes the Museum Experience - December 4, 2018
This Web Chat was organized in collaboration with the Art Museum FIG and focused on the use of technology in museums and art museums in particular. Discussants from the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and MWA Insights shared their experience evaluating different kinds of digital experiences, from apps, to interactives, to augmented reality.

Visitor Studies 101: Writing Competitive Conference Proposals - October 16, 2018
This Web Chat provides tips on writing successful proposals. Members heard directly from VSA proposal reviewers, who shared their inside knowledge on what makes a focused submission that is likely to receive high marks.

Data Visualization - Share, Brag, Vent! - March 27, 2018
This Web Chat was organized in collaboration with the Data Viz and Reporting FIG. Hosts Lauren Wilson (Illuminated Ideas), Kate Livingston (Expose Your Museum), and Claire Quimby (Rockman et al) discuss data viz tools for timing and tracking, displaying spacial data, and lots of places to get data viz inspiration and tools. 

Developing Instruments for Culturally Responsive Evaluation - February 15, 2018
This Web Chat was organized in collaboration with the Bridging Communities FIG. Participants discussed challenges and strategies for designing instruments that meet the needs of diverse target audiences. Special guests include Ali Mroczkowski and Aaron Price of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago and Stephanie Downey of RK&A.

AAM's LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines - June 15, 2017
This Web Chat was organized in collaboration with the Bridging Communities FIG. Participants discussed the new Welcoming Guidelines released by the American Alliance of Museums. Renae Youngs of the Minnesota State Arts Board was instrumental in the development of the guidelines and joined the chat as a guest speaker. 

Using Common Measures in Visitor Studies - May 16, 2017
This Web Chat focused on using common measures across multiple institutions/museums. Karen Knutson of the Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out of School Environments, Mac Cannady of the Lawrence Hall of Science, and Ryan Auster of the Museum of Science, Boston all joined as guest speakers to talk about the various projects they have worked on that used common measures - for different purposes, with different tactics, and with different outcomes.

Emotional Engagement in Museums - January 30, 2017
This Web Chat focused on measuring emotional engagement in museums. Guest speaker Gabbie Schlichtmann of EdTogether joined the chat to talk about her own work with children and museum exhibits, finding new ways to understand the role emotion plays in their experience.